Paul’s initial arrival at Corinth proves telling. By his own admission, he came “in weakness and in fear and much trembling” (1 Cor. 2:3). While we often focus on the successes and victories of Paul’s missionary efforts, no effort is made to hide the undeniable “dark side” of this work.
Leading up to this journey landing in this metropolitan city on the Greek peninsula, treatment at Philippi had been “shameful” (1 Thess. 2:2). Then, at the Macedonian capital, Thessalonica, the severe Jewish opposition forced a departure the apostle described as being “torn away” (1 Thess. 2:17). Next, Berea proved more receptive until Thessalonian Jews pursued the missionaries and so stirred up and agitated the crowds that it made necessary another hasty escape (Acts 17:13). At Athens, though Paul preached a masterful sermon on Mars Hill (Acts 17:22-31), the response proved largely dismissive. Further, that young church back at Thessalonica dogged his thoughts. He repeatedly sought to return to them but Satan successfully thwarted any such effort (1 Thess. 2:18). His anxiety for their situation and fear that Satan had also been effective among them made it unbearable (1 Thess. 3:5).
So, it’s not hard to imagine why Paul felt as he did when he arrived at Corinth. But from there he wrote a letter to the Thessalonians and spoke of great joy and glory (1 Thess. 2:19-20). Why the sudden change? What happened? Good news from Timothy about Thessalonica made all the difference. Timothy had returned to these brethren at Paul’s bidding (from Berea; Acts 17:14; 1 Thess. 3:2) and found that despite continued affliction and apparent verbal attacks on Paul, these young Christians had actually continued to grow in their faith and love. Paul had feared the worst (1 Thess. 3:5) but now in Corinth he learned the best.
Let’s learn from Paul’s experience. Our anxieties are frequently based on our fears, not our knowledge. Even Paul was not exempt from such. Gaining knowledge of the Thessalonians’ condition changed everything. Also, the source of joy and glory in the work of the Lord is not obstacles removed, opposition eliminated, or ease for our efforts. Instead it is the growth and development of faith and love among those who hear the gospel. That’s the measuring stick!
Where do I find my joy in the work of the Lord?